Janine Gutierrez: ‘Fame isn’t what makes you happy’

A Best Actress sweep, a big network move, and a line-up of new movies and shows — Janine Gutierrez is setting her sights onto greater things.

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This shoot with Janine Gutierrez has been a long time coming.

We talked to her as early as January last year, back when “Babae at Baril” triumphantly at the 2019 QCinema International Film Festival where it won Best Director, and Best Actress for Gutierrez. The award, according to Gutierrez, was like “a hug,” an affirmation that she’s doing things right. It’s definitely a high point for a strong filmography, especially coming from a string of stunning performances in films such as “Dagsin,” where she plays a spirited woman who goes through a daunting test of faith when her husband is sent to war; and “Elise,” an irreverent coming of age and romantic comedy film.

But when the pandemic hit, all plans ground to a halt, particularly for Gutierrez who was looking forward to a fruitful summer. Her film with Paulo Avelino, “Ngayon Kaya” was supposed to premiere at the first summer edition of the Metro Manila Film Festival (and the release is still postponed), there were also several projects in the wings. She didn’t stay put, though. She used her social media platforms to talk about important issues and joined Aktor, an actor’s guild to address the many issues in the acting profession that were brought to light by the pandemic. Gutierrez remained very vocal about things that she was very passionate about, to the point that it frequently got her in trouble.

Then came the awards.

Gutierrez kept winning Best Actress awards for her performance in “Babae at Baril,” a film that became increasingly relevant in its portrayal of corruption and misogyny as the quarantine went on. She first won the Gawad Urian, and then at the FAMAS awards. The film went around film festivals. It opened the New York Asian Film Festival in 2020, where it played alongside critically acclaimed films like “Kim Ji-young, Born 1982” (which also tackles misogyny and the role of women in a patriarchal society).

RELATED: Janine Gutierrez: ‘I think it’s really important to voice out your opinions’

It’s hardly a secret that Janine Gutierrez comes from a family that can be considered as one of the local entertainment industry’s royals (her paternal grandparents are Pilita Corrales and Eddie Gutierrez, and Nora Aunor and Christopher De Leon as maternal adoptive grandparents) but Gutierrez’s performance in “Babae at Baril” affirms her capability as an actress of her own.

On Janine: Ana La O' knit top and Levi's jeans. Photo by BJ PASCUAL

We caught up with Gutierrez almost a year later — several awards in tow and in the midst of a career change that many considered as brave, but it’s really just Gutierrez setting her sights onto greater things, especially in honing her strengths as an actress. She has a film with Auraeus Solito, a rom-com with Pepe Herrera, and a teleserye in her new network ABS-CBN slated to be announced soon.

Here, we paired her with award-winning actress and producer Iana Bernardez (“Gusto Kita With All My Hypothalamus,” “Metamorphosis,” and the “Pearl Next Door” webseries). The two have previously worked together in “Babae at Baril” where Bernardez served as producer. They talk about the changes in Gutierrez’s career, her move to ABS-CBN from GMA Network, and what it is like to become your own self while being part of a family that’s considered showbiz royalty.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Iana Bernardez: Good morning!

Janine Gutierrez: Hi! Nice to see you!

IB: So much happening with you right now. Trending on Twitter, new show… How are you?

JG: I’m good! I also watched your show, ha. I super love it! I think it’s the coolest thing.

IB: Thank you! (Laughs) Buti na lang its on YouTube, it’s easy to watch. But you’ve been busy, how’s it going with you?

JG: It’s going well. I’m actually [at] TBA because we have a media-con for “Dito at Doon.” It’s coming soon so we’re doing promos for it so I’m excited. Ikaw?

IB: This digital ad just came out. It’s for Kwentong Jollibee and it’s my first time doing a digital ad… Just being there... well ako hindi pa nag-f-film set na on loc talaga… just being there on set for three days, it’s fun. Of course aside from shooting “Pearl Next Door” na one day lang.. it was fun. It was still weird shooting with face masks and face shields. (Laughs)

But talking about careers right now, we just want to talk about where it all started. Do you remember when you decided to start acting? I know we talked before na you wanted to finish college first but prior to that was it your plan to get into the industry already?

On Janine: Altuzarra sweater and COS trousers. Photo by BJ PASCUAL

JB: Uhm, sobrang hindi. I don’t know if it’s the same for you because your mom is an actress also, but when I was younger did everybody ask you kung mag aartista ka din?

IB: When I was younger I didn’t look like an artista (Laughs).

JG: Same!

IB: My mom [Angel Aquino]… she was very slim, she was the beautiful morena woman. And I was just .. a tabachingching (Laughs), dugyot girl who didn’t want to do anything with acting.

JG: Oh my god same. I really didn’t have any plans even when I was younger. Pero the question was always there and I always said no. I guess I only thought seriously about it nung college kasi when you’re in college kailangan mo nang isipin what are you gonna do after... and there that’s the first time that I considered it talaga. Parang I felt how lucky we are that we have that opportunity quite easily because of our family… and I was like okay I really want to try. What about you?

IB: We’re lucky that we had a foot in the door already. But the pressure… now that you know that you have that opportunity, parang ma-p-pressure ka na “Shucks papasok lang ba ako kasi may connections? Or ‘pag papasok ako would it have been the same... would the talent be there? Would the instinct be there?

There’s this pressure that you have to prove yourself na “No, I’m not my mom” or “I’m my own.”

JG: For sure. Saka it really has to be your decision to really be able to do it well. I guess ‘yun lang din hinintay ko na when I was older at least it was my decision na, not because other people were telling me to do it.

On Janine: Diane Von Furstenberg camisole. Photo by BJ PASCUAL

IB: But somehow ba you’ve had the conversation with your parents? What did they think about it? How did they feel about it?

JG: I don’t know.. Actually yesterday ko lang nalaman because I was in another interview with my mom.. and then they asked her “Did you always think na mag a-artista si Janine?” And then she was like, “Bata pa lang siya ang arte arte na niya.” (Laughs) “Tas ang dami na niyang picture na parang nagmo-model siya.” So my mom daw she always kind of had the feeling na baka dun din ako mapunta. But it was news to me! Hindi ko talaga alam.

But having them as parents really played a major part in my being here. My mom’s only condition was to finish school ‘cause that’s something she wasn’t able to do since she started so young…

Ikaw ba? Was it easy to tell your mom?

IB: She knew kasi from the start that I didn’t want. Mahiyain… mahiyain ako? (Laughs)

I never performed in school. ‘Yung mga theater, I never tried it. Workshops, nahihiya ako kasi takot ako pag ‘yung culminating activity na tapos mag-p-perform ka… (Shudders).

That’s why she didn’t have an idea that I wanted to get into it. But when I actually did, she was so happy. As in makikita mo ‘yung difference in support niya when it’s a film she watches na I produced and it’s a film she watches na I’m acting in it. Hindi siya less support but different lang ‘yung… “Yeah anak ko ‘yan!”

Do you ask your parents, your mom for tips? Comments?

JG: Yeah. When I was starting sasabihin niya talaga na “Ang pangit ng ginawa mo! Wag mo nang uulitin ‘yan!” (Laughs) At least I know someone is looking out for me and my best interests and hindi ako bobolahin. She’s also my worst critic.

It’s funny now kasi in “Dito at Doon” they got her to play my mom in the film. Everybody thought that it would be easier for me kasi mom ko na nga siya… pero for me personally, mas mahirap kasi I know I can’t fake anything with her. Kasi alam na niya yung totoong iyak ko, ’yung totoong sasabihin ko, so I feel like all the more I have to be relaxed… it’s really funny, it’s different.

"Coming from a showbiz family... I always knew na fame wasn’t what made them happy. ‘Yung mga artista diba? I saw my parents, grandparents, some of them super famous. But I always knew na hindi dapat ‘yun ‘yung goal mo kasi hindi naman siya nakaka-happy."

IB: But before working with your mom here, did you ever see her live, as in acting live, did she bring you to film sets?

JG: Yeah, I would visit her a lot during tapings. And I guess maybe that was also one of the reasons why nung bata ako ayaw kong mag-artista. Kasi when you visit a set it’s kind of overwhelming? Madaming tao, madaming ilaw, as in literal na masisilaw ka. Ang daming cable. And there’s something about a film set, when you’re not part of it, that you really feel everybody else is in a bubble and ikaw parang outsider diba?

IB: That’s true! What was your first role?

JG: It was a guesting for “Pepito Manaloto.” I was told na may taping ako. Tapos naghahanap ako ng script kasi sobrang kinakabahan ako dahil first taping ko ever. Tas walang dumadating na script. I asked my mom, because she was my manager at that time, “Ma, bakit walang script? Baka mag buckle-buckle ako bukas.” So I got there and wala pala akong lines, girl! (Laughs) Kaya hindi sila nagpapadala ng script! Kasi dadaan-daan lang ako. (Laughs) I guess at least I didn’t have to memorize anything?

Tapos ‘yung eksena is parang crush ako nung bida. He was looking at me, slow mo, maganda ako, and then I sneeze and there’s like a bubble in my nose. That was my first role ever! (Laughs) Can you imagine? Nakakaloka!

IB: What was the role na eto na pinadalhan ka na ng script! Na eto na?

JG: It was a teleserye. “Makapiling Kang Muli.” The leads were Carla Abellana and Richard Gutierrez and I was Richard’s sister. What about you?

IB: Kasi diba nasa production ako so aside from nag aappear lang ako as a support lang… it was “Hypothalamus.” It was my first real acting. Kasi ‘yung iba… sa “Mr and Mrs Cruz,” nag ex-fiancée ako. [‘Yung] you’re already there [sa set] and ‘Si Iana na lang!” ganyan. (Laughs). “Hypothalamus” was the full casting process.

JG: Ang ganda agad.

IB: You know I have to say, everything I’ve done so far, I’m just so lucky to have landed or gotten the opportunity to work with those people. Kahit sa producing work eh, I’m just lucky to work with the directors, the [writers]...

But you as an actor, how did you choose your roles as an actor after your first acting role.

JG: I think it took me a long time [to figure out] that I had a choice.. I guess? As an actress. Kasi it’s a job that you have so many people around you. You have your managers, handlers, your network… and I think mostly in recent years ko lang napaglaban talaga ‘yung gusto kong gawin. It started talaga with “Elise.” I did “Elise” with Enchong [Dee] and Direk Joel Ferrer and it was one of the films that I was so proud of. I liked it.

IB: I liked it! It was beautiful.

JG: Thank you! Because when you act in a film you never know how it’s really going to come out diba? Kasi ang dami pang factors… so you really only see everything na buong-buo when you watch it. So my hope for “Elise” na sana it comes out nice… kasi ang ganda ng script and it came out nice. My next wish was sana people watch it… (Laughs).

I guess that’s [when] I realized na you really have to carve your own path by making your own decisions. And ever since then, if it’s something I’m not so sure about, I’d rather not do it. If it’s a script na I don’t believe it, wag na lang.

Minsan din kasi diba as an actor, hindi naman steady ‘yung work natin, ‘diba? It’s per project pero at the same time you’ll really get the work that you want if you choose your roles well.

IB: With the variety of roles now and I’m sure that you’ve had a lot of offers… was there a role that you were too apprehensive to play or na you didn’t want to accept but decided to take a risk?

JG: You know what, it’s not true that I have a lot of offers. What’s funny is mas dumami ‘yung offers when I started being choosy about the roles that I wanted to play. I guess it shows din directors and producers what kind of films that you want to make…

IB: That’s so interesting. I didn’t expect that. Na when you started to be more picky it showcased more of who you were. Ang galing.

JG: Yeah. Oo nga eh, diba dapat bilang artista, dapat “O pasalamat ka inalok sa’yo ‘to, bat mo tatanggihan?” But at the same time why would you do something if it’s not what you believe in, ‘diba?

Back to your other question, parang the roles that I was scared to play were the roles that I need to play more. Like “Babae,” oh my god that script was so good ang hirap nito but please ako na lang! Ako na lang please! Parang ‘yung puso mo mamatay if you see someone else do it and not you. I guess when you’re scared to play something it means that it’s an important role for you. Parang i-ch-challenge mo talaga yung sarili mo, i-p-pressure mo ‘yung sarili mo. Ikaw ba?

IB: That’s true. When I read “Hypo” I was [production] staff at that time. When I read it [parang] sobrang nakakainggit naman yung mag-p-play ng Eileen na role. Nakakainggit kasi challenging kasi for the actress and at the same time you want to take on that challenge. It’s the scary that excites you.

I just want to congratulate you again. You’re part of a new family. What can you tell us about this new journey that you’re taking on?

JG: I’m so excited. Like from the first meeting pa lang I felt that they were really interested in getting to know what I wanted to do. Sobrang na-appreciate ko ‘yun. Not everyone cares what you want to do diba? They’ll just give you what they think is suitable for you. But I really felt that they were open to what I was looking forward to, kung ano pa ‘yung di ko nagawa.

I’m looking forward to also doing a lot of work on digital because ABS is so strong with iWant, KTX… When it comes to things like that the reach is so wide, no matter where you are in the world you’re able to watch it. I’m really excited. I feel like the possibilities are endless din with the material because they’re so brave and experimental. I’m excited to do new things, new characters.

On Janine: Balenciaga Silk dress. Photo by BJ PASCUAL

IB: Congratulations! And I’m just so happy that as an actor we all just wait for the time that we can choose our projects, especially when you’re signed with a big network…

JG: Thank you! I swear I owe it to you guys, you Bianca and Rae [Red, the director of “Babae at Baril”]. When I first met you guys, you mentioned that one of the things that made you think of me for “Babae” was I am on social media. And I’m so used to people saying na hindi ka dapat ganon kasi artista ka. But when you guys said that, naisip ko na okay you can be both. So thank you guys!

But you! You just signed with The IdeaFirst [Company]! What are you looking forward to with this step in your career?

IG: Thank you! Well, ‘yun nga eh. I never thought that I’d need a manager kasi it was always just mom. I thought I was willing to try acting more seriously and I actually try to be good at it. Kasi I realized it’s something I enjoyed doing pala. That’s the exciting part about discovering something new, na parang I want to try it more pa, that I want to risk more for something.

It’s exciting and it’s nice to be part of a new family that you know is out there to push you pa and support you with something that you want to try. IdeaFirst has good material. I’m just waiting for their new scripts and hopefully they make me part of a new project. (Laughs).

It was nice also because I really asked that they’ll allow me to still take on producing roles. Sabi nila kung sino mauna mag block off ng date.

You mentioned that you’re braver in choosing your own roles and you’re more brave in speaking your own mind, but how do you balance your roles in commercially viable works and then your more daring kind of projects?

JG: Ako I always looked up to actors who can do both. ‘Yung pinaka unang idol ko I would say was Lovi [Poe]. Because she’d always have a T.V. show and commercial films but then she went to Cannes, she got into all these indie films around the world. Or like Iza [Calzado], because she had films like “Bliss” and “Barber’s Tales.” Sobrang favorite ko ‘yung “Barber’s Tales” ni Direk Jun [Lana] (Laughs). And she still does T.V. shows that everyone still latches on to so parang wow you can be both!

IB: But we always go back to whether it’s commercial or indie no? The story.

JG: True. I don’t know if you also feel this, Iana but coming from a showbiz family. I always knew na fame wasn’t what made them happy. ‘Yung mga artista diba? I saw my parents, grandparents, some of them super famous. But I always knew na hindi dapat ‘yun ‘yung goal mo kasi hindi naman siya nakaka-happy. I mean, it’s a bonus, but it’s not really what I saw gave them fulfillment or ‘yung talagang pride. So I guess the goal was always to do good work. Fame isn’t what makes you happy.

IB: Yeah that’s true. My mom was never the big star but she was always around. She kept reminding me na the goal isn’t to become famous but to be good at what you do and be reliable for you to stay in the industry for as long as you can and keep doing what you love.

On Janine: Vintage blouse. Photo by BJ PASCUAL

JG: We’ve been so lucky in the past few months because of “Babae at Baril.” I want to ask you… like, there’s always the staple answer that you hear when actors win awards but for you what’s the real meaning of winning an award for your film?

IB: When we won for Babae sa Best Film. When we won sa Urian. Naiyak ako when Rae won, when you won, and when it won for Best Film. Kasi it.. ‘yung feeling ko kasi as a producer alam kong pinahirapan ko ‘yung mga tao ko on set…

JG: Talaga?

IB: Of course you couldn’t give them the budget that they dreamed of, with Rea there were times that I would tell her, “Hanggang ganito lang tayo..” and then to see them so challenged but bring out all the creativity that they have and be awarded for it, it’s just so fulfilling to me as a producer. Para akong nanay na ‘yung anak nila.

But when I won for Metamorphosis… it was more of I can’t believe it? Thank you so much? I wasn’t supposed to attend nga the awards night because I didn’t think I was going to win. Pero sige na nga. It was more thank you for believing in me and I hope I get to do projects like this again.

You? After the sweep last year?

JG: Alam mo same, if it was an actual awards night, I don’t think I would have gone. Hindi ko talaga in-e-expect. The only reason why I was watching the livestream ng Urian that night was because the team was winning. Especially yung projects like that, talagang ramdam na ramdam mo ‘yung solidarity. I super cried also. It feels like affirmation. Because we all felt so bad that we weren’t able to go to Osaka and New York and all these international festivals. I didn’t know na to be recognized in the Philippines by our peers would mean so much more.

IB: I’m sure that your fandom has grown. How do you handle this kind of lifestyle now? What do you keep private and public... you’re more vocal on social media…

JG: Oh wow. I think I learned something a few years ago that helped me with that decision making. When you start kasi in showbiz is how many likes your picture got or how many followers you had. And then I realized a few years ago na ikaw din yung gagawa ng metrics mo for success. For you it’s not going to be how many likes you had but were you honest with what you said or what you put out… I’m just going to be honest and to share what I feel like sharing.

On Janine: Balenciaga Silk dress. Photo by BJ PASCUAL

IB: As actors we have that responsibility to tell the truth. You’re someone who people listen to whether you like it or not. When I gained more following after “Pearl Next Door,” it was both an exciting and comforting experience because it was nice … people cared for you, people would say “Sana masarap ‘yung ulam mo ngayon.” (Laughs).

JG: Ang sweet nun no?

IG: Heartwarming talaga to have fans and you’ll realize sila pala talaga magbubuhat ng career mo aside from your talent. Bigla kang nagkaroon ng responsibility to be more accountable with what you say because more people are listening… without sacrificing the truth and being plastic naman.

JG: That’s true I feel like people respond to being honest talaga.

IB: You’ve acted for how many years already?

JG: Oh my god nine, pero less yung alam ko na talaga yung ginagawa ko (Laughs).

IB: (Laughs) But with the nine years that you’ve been in showbiz, what has been the most important lesson that your mom has shared with you?

JG: Siguro by example na rin, by how professional they are. Kasi mommy ko showbiz family din siya. I mean her mom is Nora Aunor so I would imagine that comes with a bit of privilege diba? But she’s always so professional. Also, Mamita. She’s Asia’s Queen of Song… I’m sure you can get away with a lot of things, but she’s always on time, she’s always down to earth. I think, like you said, ‘yung pakikitungo mo sa tao ‘yung most important thing in such a big industry. And to your fans of course, kasi sila nga ‘yung magtatawid sa’yo like you said.

IB: Yeah. Ang galing nga eh. I’m sure you will be in this industry for a very long time. Do you think about your legacy as early as now in your career?

JG: Oh my god. I don’t know. That’s so intense. (Laughs). But as a tita, I know this Oprah quote. (Laughs). Sabi ni Oprah, because she put up this school in Africa, tas sabi niya kay Maya Angelou, I think this is going to be my legacy. Tas sabi ni Maya Angelou, you have no idea what your legacy will be. Of all the years you were on T.V., on your show, you don’t know who watched that and learned something from you and taught it to someone else. And this happened because of that.

So I feel like legacy is so encompassing na ang hirap isipin. So I think it’s really just a matter of making good choices for us and being part of work that we believe in and always doing our best and hoping that somebody watches it, kahit one person and that it inspires them.


Photos by BJ PASCUAL
Styling by ANNA CANLAS
Produced by DON JAUCIAN